Alex Long’s opinion in the Feb. 11 Waltonian suggested that business plays an essential role in the accomplishment of God’s goals, and asks whether a relationship between theology and business might make each discipline more useful in the hands of God.
I think a relationship between the two disciplines is essential – but there are significant barriers to overcome before a constructive relationship between the two can be forged. Some of these barriers are suggested in his essay.
One way of dividing up the world that has perhaps led to his observation that “business generally receives a bad rap at Eastern,” is the division of the world into the sacred and profane, with theologians stereotypically concerned with the former and business with the latter. Cultural forces have led to this division, but it is not a division that the biblical witness will allow us to sustain. The God of Jesus Christ is up to his elbows in the profane, becoming profane himself, in order to heal and redeem – in other words, to make everything sacred. Materialism and selfishness per se are not the problem, it is how these forces are oriented and directed, and what they generate, that is the problem.
The ongoing, unimaginative relationship of suspicion between business and theology that persists on the basis of this division has no theological grounds. What needs to happen is that this relationship needs to be reconfigured, the stereotypes challenged, and more imaginative and integrative frameworks developed to address the parochialism of both disciplines. To use the categorization discredited above, theology needs to be more concerned with the ‘profane,’ and business needs to be more concerned with the ‘sacred’ – and both disciplines need to do so on more than a superficial level.
Bringing both into a constructive and mutually transforming relationship is necessary if the mission of the Kingdom of God is to be advanced. A reorientation around a different goal has the potential to bring these two parties together in a way that accusations of business’ materialism and greed, and accusations of theology’s abstractions and impracticality, cannot. A preoccupation with God and theology certainly will not purge the human, or human institutions, of greed and selfishness, just as a passion for business need not lead one into a life of greed and God-forgetfulness.
I like Shane Claiborne. His way may be simple, but it is not the only way to address the concerns of the poor. His goals are those of innumerable businesspeople that my wife and I know – who are also working imaginatively to advance the kingdom of God and to bear witness to its goals and values by promoting chastened forms of materialism and selfishness that enable and empower the poor, address the root causes of injustice and oppression and promote peace.
They may have ties instead of dreads, shiny black shoes instead of Birkenstocks, and may live in homes that look like hotels, but their goals are the same, and that seems basis enough for more collaboration between them. Pursuing justice does not necessitate a life of poverty. But it also does not mean ‘business as usual’ and ignoring critical reflection on a range of issues that impact, and are impacted by, business. A businessperson can be as much an ordinary radical as a new monastic, but both require the other to accomplish their shared goals. It’s time to end the suspicion and get down to business.